June 11, 2014

Farewell #Cosmos, for the #NBAFinals — 3.5 stars overall (updated)

Yep, that's what it was for me on Sunday night.

I flipped the channel halfway through the final episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson's remake of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, to watch Game 2 of the NBA Finals. And, didn't regret it a second.

Telescopes similar to this, but without the Cosmos theme,
were available at 40 percent less than these at Space.com.
Now, I'm jumping head-on into controversy, per the photo at right of a Cosmos-themed telescope with a ripoff price, along with other similar items offered for outrageous overcharges at Space.com.

I've blogged several times about various issues with Cosmos. Let's start with the name of the host, and the huge commercialization of the program and said host. Yes, some of that happened in Sagan's version, but not as much.

Second, I don't know if I was alone or not in channel-flipping. I do know that ratings, after the opener, had a steady fall until the finale. So, despite the earnest and hardcore touting of the program, like this wrap-up by Donald Prothero, viewers largely disagreed. It's interesting, or "interesting," that Prothero never mentions this aspect. I tried commenting there, but it didn't post; I think I'm still on ban there.

As for the why of the ratings slump, I think that's in part because Tyson and the production team never settled on a core audience.

If it was adults, those cheesy cartoon graphics never should have been part of the program. If it were for children, even pre-teen to teen older "youth," it should have had a different educational and didactic focus.

Back to Prothero, who compares Cosmos, on Fox, to Neil Shubin's "Inner Fish" three-parter on PBS. Tis true that is might not have had the same ratings. But, as I noted, it was MUCH better produced, better organized, and threw down the gauntlet of evolutionary challenge to creationists in a much better way. And, that was without the commercial money Tyson et al had to blow, which makes the Cosmos reboot sadder yet.

Related to that, as I note here and here, Cosmos had some "framing" errors, too, like its display of Robert Hooke as a cartoonish villain. There was a bigger one than that, though.

Tis true that Sagan, in the original, got the Library of Alexandria destruction wrong. In general, though, Sagan, like Steve Gould, believed in the idea of NOMA, or non-overlapping magisteria, between science and religion.

And, I think with things like Giordano Bruno, and his finale talking about "faith in science," Tyson has a different take.

I am in the middle. First, evolution by natural selection talks only about the development of life. It's different, to be technical, than the origins of life, which on naturalistic views, are some sort of abiogenesis.

So, can the neo-Darwinian synthesis be compatible with religious viewpoints? Yes. Is it an easy compatibility? No. Is it a likely or probably compatibility? No.

That said, one can still recognize that science, tentatively, specifically shuts down some metaphysical issues. I've blogged myself about chimeric births undercutting the idea of a metaphysical soul.

But, one can state that without deliberately looking for opportunities to take shots, especially when, in the Bruno case, they're not just mildly wrong, but hugely wrong.

And, on Bruno ... isn't science supposed to be about empirical research? Neil, there was plenty of stuff to tell you that you and your staff had Bruno wrong. It's this "framing" attitude that almost led me to down-star this half a point.

And, if you're evangelizing for science, why would you risk pissing off part of your target audience, too? No, not fundamentalists.

But, I see as what should have been the target audience as being 35-54 adults, moderately conservative both politically and religiously, but not stuck in ruts. Republican-leaning self-identified independents politically. Living in a large town, small city or suburb in the Midwest or more advanced portions of the South. Members of a mainline Protestant denomination like the United Methodist Church,  that trends moderately liberal nationally, but leans moderately conservative, but not hardcase, in the geographic areas I mention. And the bitch-slap of religion via Bruno wouldn't help you reach them.

Back to the ratings issue, though. Prothero unfairly compares the two Cosmos. First, PBS wasn't part of Nielsen ratings back then. Second, Prothero elsewhere in the piece semi-disparagingly compares PBS to commercial TV, so it's almost like he's setting up a straw man. Third, we may not have Neilsens, but Cosmos was the most watched PBS series, Wiki says, before Ken Burns' "Civil War" set. As for "Inner Fish," it's almost impossible to find full top-to-bottom Nielsen ratings of previous weeks online, including at Nielsen's own website, so I don't know what audience it had, just that it was a damn site better than Cosmos.

And, those sliding ratings are why I think Fox bumped up the sale date of Cosmos DVDs by two weeks. It wanted to sell, sell, sell before people forgot, forgot, forgot.

Was Cosmos nice in a reboot? Yes, but also "nice."

Three and a half stars, or a B-minus. Production values, editing, coherence all dragged this baby down like a lead anchor versus what it could have been. And, I don't need to participate in a quasi-tribalist rah-rah for it out of Tyson being a "scientific skepticism" hero or whatever. And, yes, I think there are bits of tribalism behind some of the blinder touting of the Cosmos remake.

Tyson himself reinforces this idea, and my thoughts of the reboot being less than ideal, when he talks about science as a "trending" issue. Really? I had no idea that "science" was something we had to monitor for SEO keyword usage, Twitter hashtags, etc.

It's this type of thinking that's behind the dumbing down of Discover, Scientific American, etc.

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